Cup final or bust? Amid leadership changes, Real Salt Lake grapple with uncertain ambitions

SANDY, Utah – The Real Salt Lake players who were one kick away from winning MLS Cup just three months ago are already aiming to get back to the championship match again. And they're aiming to win it this time.

Young midfielder Luis Gil told reporters the team is ready to “come out this season and do it again.” Sebastian Velasquez said the team is looking forward to getting the season under way “and get another run at the MLS Cup.”

Even veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando brushed off the fact that the team had a particularly short offseason, insisting they are “ready to get going. And, hopefully, get back to the championship game again.”

Most prognosticators don't see the Claret-and-Cobalt doing that. Although, as Gil was quick to point out, most prognosticators saw 2013 as a rebuilding year for RSL, and the team reached the final of both MLS Cup and the US Open Cup.

Team management is considerably more circumspect about Real Salt Lake's chances in 2014. New head coach Jeff Cassar isn't talking about making it to the title game, let alone winning MLS Cup. He said his the team's goal this season is “just to be consistent.”

Over the past six seasons, Real Salt Lake has been one of the most consistent teams in MLS. Only the LA Galaxy have won more regular-season matches (88) than RSL (84). The two rivals open the 2014 season against one other on Saturday night at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey didn't hesitate when asked what would mark a successful 2014 campaign.

“Minimum goal? Make the playoffs,” he said. “We've made it six years in a row – tied for second-longest in league history.”

New England hold the record with eight straight playoff appearances from 2002-09; New York also went six consecutive seasons from 2003-08.

After the 2012 season, Real Salt Lake traded away longtime stalwarts Fabián Espíndola, Jámison Olave and Will Johnson for allocation money.

After the 2013 season, RSL replaced longtime coach Jason Kreis – who left for 2015 expansion team New York City FC – with longtime assistant Jeff Cassar. But with the exception of Andy Williams, who moved from scout to assistant, the rest of the coaching staff is entirely new.

No matter how much turnover, making the playoffs in 2014 is still the goal, and a realistic one at that.

“If we make the playoffs again this year, it'll be seven years,” Lagerwey said. “We'd be one off the record and we'd be in second place by ourselves.
“I think that would speak very highly of our organization, particularly back-to-back years in transition. Big personnel transition last year, a big off-the field staff transition [this] year.”

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